Strong Spirit: Hope for Women Living with Illness

Even at this time of reduced social interaction I keep (virtually) bumping into women who are sick or struggling.  There was a time when I thought I was the only odd one.  As a youngish woman living with a chronic condition, it seemed to me that the frustration and pain of dealing with an uncooperative body made my life abnormal.  I felt abnormal.

But what is normal?  I’ve come to realize that most of us struggle – some with emotional issues like depression or anxiety, others with physical challenges like cancer or arrhythmia.

I wonder if you ever feel alone in your pain?  Of if you know someone wrestling with a recent diagnosis or ongoing condition.  Do you think Strong Spirit might touch the hurting place in your life or in the life of your loved one?  My hope is that it will. In Strong Spirit I share my own story and introduce readers to other women who live well in spite of on-going challenges.

Do you long to live a meaningful life in spite of chronic pain or illness?
Does depression or anxiety interfere with routines that used to be easy?

In this book Holly will help you:

  • Discover that you have not been rejected or abandoned by God.
  • Learn to stop comparing yourself to others or to your former self.
  • Find balance between selfless love and self-care.
  • Find joy and comfort in your most distressing moments.
  • Embrace new hope for the future.

We belong to a community of real women who suffer and struggle. Although brokenness may be part of this season of our lives, let’s inspire one another as we allow God to use our strengths and our weakness for His glory.

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Featured post


I want something.

I want it bad. It distracts me. It maddens me. It is an obsession. Being without it makes me gloomy, disappointed and angry. 

There is a question that scares me – a question I prefer not to ask myself, but one that I force myself to think about routinely: What would happen if I got it?  That thing that I want, but don’t have.

Would I be satisfied? Or would I put a tick in that box and move on to another obsession? 

Do you long for a baby or a boyfriend? A house or a stunning wardrobe? A perfect body or a perfect relationship? Financial security? A successful career? Do you invest hours of your short life longing for something? Researching it? Moving yourself a little closer to the dream? 

Goals are good. Desire is the first step in a journey that can take us to a great place. 

But obsessions are destructive. 

I read in the Bible about two women. One was named Rachel. She wanted a baby. Her entire existence circled around this desire. For years she was miserable; she compared herself to others and she let her family know she was NOT happy. When, finally, she had that dream baby, it wasn’t enough. She wanted another. 

I do not want to be like her. 

Another woman in the Bible also wanted a baby. Hannah. Her story is similar to Rachel’s in many ways. Except that when God intervened and miraculously enabled her to have that special child, she did not take it in stride as something she deserved, moving on to the next demand. 

Her gratitude was profound. And she chose to give that child back to God. 

I want to be like Hannah. 

God has placed good things in my life and I want to live in a spirit of gracious gratitude and satisfaction, knowing that He has given me more than I deserve, starting with His own unconditional love. I want to be content.

Fixating is rarely a good idea. Try, with me, to let it go. Surrender control. Search for the blessings in your life and make a practice of mentally remembering that God is good and that He can be trusted.

Letting go doesn’t take the desire away. It’s not about giving up. It’s about surrender. It eases pressure. Trust brings relief. 

Let Go, song by Kory Miller

Labour Day Fun

Homemade frozen yogurt, canned tomato sauce, bagels and burgers were born in our kitchen this morning. In Canada, Labour Day marks the final day of the last weekend before school starts. Soon the fall routine will begin.

A half bushel of beautiful tomatoes sat in our car, sent home with us after a visit with friends; I decided to can tomato sauce while my daughter focused on other yummy tasks.

For those who want to see the ice cream maker in action, here’s a video. I recommend muting the sound.

And… since we were in the kitchen anyway, we thought we’d make a quick batch of burgers (no photos, sorry…) and, finally… bagels. A productive morning!

Lone Ranger Woman

I am drawn to the image of the lone ranger woman. Courageous. Independent. Confident. Fulfilled. She wears whatever she likes, does what she enjoys and needs approval from no one. The reality, though, is that often I fixate on pleasing others. I obsess over it. 

Leah, a woman whose story is told in the Bible, did this. Married to a man who didn’t notice, appreciate or want her, she obsessed over gaining his approval and his love. For years. In our culture we envy and admire woman who look amazing. In her culture, women who had babies were honoured and valued. 

Each time Leah gave birth, you can tell from the naming of her child that she was hoping this child would finally make her husband notice her. Want her. Love her. Admire her. 

I think many of us are a lot like her. We allow others to decide our worth. A key relationship isn’t what we want it to be and we agonize over it – longing for something that this person isn’t giving us. Sometimes social media plays a roll as we obsess over likes, follows, or other signs of affirmation. Our longing for approval allows others to control us. 

In her book, Control Girl, Shannon Popkin says “We give control to the person whose opinion matters most to us. For each of us, this person needs to be God.” 

This isn’t easy, and Popkin reminds readers that putting God first can be a long, gritty struggle as we break free from old patterns. 

Whose opinion matters most to you? 

How can you intentionally shift your gaze so that it becomes fixed on a God who adores you… Someone you can trust with your fears, your hopes and your heart?

Give control to God by accepting His unconditional love and wrenching your eyes from the people you long to impress. Let His esteem be enough.

Seen. Wanted. Loved.

Have you ever felt unseen, unwanted and unloved? 

I’m learning a lot about control these days and one aspect of control that’s new to me is the idea of defensive control. Feelings like the ones I just mentioned often spring from how others treat us, and these feelings cause pain. So we lash out. Defensively. To take control, and prevent pain. 

No one is going to hurt me like that again. I will not feel worthless. You will not have a chance to harm me. 

Defensive control. 

This morning I read a devotional chapter about Leah, a woman in the Bible who wasn’t attractive and wasn’t wanted. She felt unseen, unwanted and unloved. Then comes this beautiful verse, “The Eternal One saw how Leah was unloved.” (Gen 29:31)

No matter how invisible you feel, you are not invisible to God. (Control Girl, 130) 

Your feelings are noticed and known by God. He sees you. He has always seen you. 

We, so often, are disappointed by others. People fail to notice us the way we want to be noticed. It’s easy to spend our lives seeking that attention, trying to make others see us correctly. 

Let God be the One who sees you and validates your worth. Give Him control by turning over the darkest, loneliest moments of your life to Him, knowing He was there. He saw you. He sees you now.

You are precious in My sight,

… you are honored and I love you.

Isa 43:4

Take some time to watch this video and to listen to the song. Internalize the message: God sees you. You are wanted. You are loved.

Song: The God Who Sees

Happy Peru Day – Felices Fiestas Patrias

Have you ever prepared for a celebration with a vision in mind of how it will unfold, only to find that reality doesn’t match? A week ago the thought of celebrating Peru’s independence day hardly crossed my mind. We’d been sick for weeks with a clingy stomach flu and we were eating just to survive.

Because of this, there was no advanced planning, this year, for any kind of Happy Peru Day celebration. When, a day or two prior to the 28th, we suddenly found ourselves able to enjoy food again, I wanted to make a special meal.  Fiestas Patrias could be a way to not only celebrate Peru, but also a return to health.

I haven’t shopped in a grocery store for more than one or two items in over a year. It felt odd to go around with my little cart, slowly selecting the right peppers, tomatoes and beef. I would cook Lomo Saltado – a Peruvian beef and veggie stir-fry served with rice.

Timing would be everything.

My husband teaches Spanish online. Between 5:30 and 6:00 he had a break in teaching, so Fiestas Patrias would begin with the lomo saltado at 5:30 sharp, and continue with dessert at seven, when his final lesson ended.

I began chopping. Sedate. Happy. It was mid-afternoon. Plenty of time.

Is there anything nicer than seeing clean, white bowls fill with colourful, chopped produce? I lined up my supplies: potatoes sliced into fries and tossed in vinegar; meat, chopped and salted and also tossed in vinegar; onions, slivered. And so on.

Homemade fries take the longest when cooking lomo saltado, so I got these going in a pot of oil, well before I needed them. Dropping strips of salted beef in sizzling oil sears the meat, locking in flavour. I learned this on you-tube, from El Tio Lenguao.

My eye on the clock, I prepped the rice and added chopped garlic to the meat… only to find no soy sauce in the fridge. No soy sauce?! How could I have overlooked this?


It did not occur to me, in that moment, to run next door for some. Our neighbour is kind and helpful and had stopped by only the day before for some corn starch.

My daughter hovered, offering to help in any way she could. I gave her ten dollars, my credit card and the car keys. We agreed that there was no time to get to a grocery store. In our little village, there is one plaza with a convenience store. I sent her there. If the store had none, she could always go next door to the Chinese restaurant to ask for a few of those small soy packets.

I finished the stir-fry without the soy sauce, holding my breath as I eyed the driveway and the clock. With five minutes to spare my daughter pulled in and triumphantly grinned at me. She had exchanged my ten dollar bill for this:

Not what I expected.

A box of soy packets? How many were there? Hundreds? Definitely hundreds. How many years would it take me to go through all of those?

But, with minutes to spare, this was not the time to fuss. I giggled with her, accepted the box, ripped open some packets and finished the stir-fry. The meal was plated in record time and I turned on my Happy Peru Day Spotify playlist.

Then my husband appeared with an apologetic expression. Too much watermelon had messed with his digestion and he needed to spend the half hour between lessons… well… not with us at the table.

As I was saying, sometimes reality doesn’t match our expectations.

Our plans don’t always work out how we wish they would.

Life isn’t as simple or enjoyable as we imagine it should be.

We pour ourselves into projects that fail. By our standards.

Look again. Try to move beyond the disappointment, the vision of how it should have been or could have been. Make room for the beauty of what is.

My daughter and I enjoyed a special meal together and we made a memory that neither of us will forget. My husband enjoyed his lomo saltado later. We had fun being together and we savoured delicious food. We are blessed and it was good.

“One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one’s mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before that at the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or a setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished—if it were possible to wish—you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other.”

C S Lewis

Magic in the Mess

Do you shy away from situations that scare you? Try to keep life tidy to stay safe? Doubt that there’s any beauty to be found in a mess?

Recently an old friend sent me a card in the mail. At first glance, it seemed garish and ugly to me, but then I looked closer and read the text and I changed my mind. I love it.

The mess is where the magic Is.

What does that suggest to you, in your life? Where is your mess? Could you could find magic there?

To me, this means:

  • When I shy away from something potentially good because my fears are loud, I should remember that gentle risks are a doorway to a deeper, more meaningful life.
  • When my thoughts tell me there is no hope and despair reminds me that a situation is totally out of my control, I should do what I can, while surrendering the situation to God. If it’s in His hands, there will be magic in the mess… sooner or later.

What about you? Where do you need some magic? Not hokus pokus magic. Beauty. Hope. Joy. That kind of magic.

Embrace gentle risks. Surrender your fears to God. Find the magic in the mess.

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